TUSCALOOSA, Ala. >> Alabama coach Nick Saban didn’t wait to be asked if he approaches a game against the No. 1 ranked team differently than he does other opponents.
“You guys always ask me what are you going to do different this week because you’re playing the No. 1 team in the country,” Saban said today. “Well, every game that we play is an important game, especially when you’re playing in the SEC, especially when you’re playing in the division. And this is most certainly an important game.
“But if there was a better way to do it, we’d already be doing it.”
There is no downplaying the importance of Saturday’s showdown between No. 1 LSU at No. 2 Alabama — though the Tide is a 6 ½-point favorite in the battle between the SEC’s last unbeaten teams.
One of them will likely be No. 1 in the College Football Playoff rankings released Tuesday night.
It’s a much-hyped match-up featuring two of the nation’s best offenses and possibly a matchup of dueling Heisman Trophy contenders at quarterback.
Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, a Saint Louis graduate, has a gimpy ankle and his status is unclear.
LSU coach Ed Orgeron freely talks about the stakes, but said the Tigers don’t talk about the stakes. Not to each other, at least.
“The SEC West, going to the SEC championship, having a chance to be in the College Football Playoff, having a chance to win the national championship,” Orgeron said. “We know what’s at stake but we don’t talk about that. … I want our guys loose and relaxed and go play our football game.”
Big games have become old hat at Alabama, and they’re all big in the rivalry between the Southeastern Conference Western Division’s top programs. They’re hardly uncommon at LSU, which already has seven wins over top 10 teams the past two seasons.
It’s not even the first 1 versus 2 regular-season matchup between Alabama and LSU. That came in 2011, when No. 1 LSU won 9-6 in overtime in a game noted for field goals made and otherwise.
Alabama won the national title game rematch 21-0.
There is one new twist to the matchup: The high-scoring, pass-happy offenses.
This one could feature two of college football’s top passers, Tagovailoa and LSU’s Joe Burrow. Tagovailoa missed the Arkansas game after having surgery for a high right ankle sprain. He did participate in two practices during last week’s open date. Saban said Tagovailoa’s status will “be a game-time decision.”
“We’ll see where he’s at (today) and then we’ll manage the reps accordingly,” the coach said. “When I say that, we cannot predict. If he goes out there today and he looks good, then his rep count is going to go up and we’ll prepare him as if he’s going to have an opportunity to play in the game. If he has a setback during the week, you can’t really control that, but that would change the plan.”
Mac Jones started for the Tide against Arkansas.
LSU has already had some game-week news. Orgeron said today that pass-rushing outside linebacker Michael Divinity has left the team for personal reasons.
Divinity’s absence doesn’t change LSU’s goal to end its eight-game losing streak against Alabama, including a 29-0 defeat last season.
“If we’d have won eight games in a row, I wouldn’t say hey we’re going to win just because we’ve won eight games in a row,” Orgeron said. “It just doesn’t happen that way. Is it motivation for the fans? Is it motivation for me? Yes it is, but we’re not going to use that at all.
“This is a new team, new game.”
This will be the 13th consecutive meeting when both teams are ranked and the seventh during that span when both were ranked in the top 10. These teams are used to dealing with big-game hype, especially the Tide.
“I feel like for games week to week, especially for big games like this, we always preach calm before the storm,” Alabama right tackle Jedrick Wills Jr. said. “Only before the game, just focus on what you’re doing in the game plan, prepare for what’s coming and then when the game comes, then you can explode with all the excitement that’s been building up to that point.”